Breathing in, I am Alive
I miss breath.
I miss the intimacy of smelling, feeling, hearing another’s breath in my space. I miss my dad’s breath on my forehead when we hug. I miss standing close on snowy days and watching breath mingle and float away. I miss seeing my kids with their friends, bent over the sandbox so close their breath becomes one. I miss being breathed on. I missed being breathed in. I miss what can happen when breath gets mixed up together in a room – how conspiring together can lead to the great conspiracies of liberation.
I write this from home, sheltered in place. By the time this magazine is in our hands, we may be able to be in the company of others again. But I think it will be a long time before we can feel comfortable letting ourselves breathe one another’s air again.
We have been thrust into a time when breath itself is to be feared. We are forced to cover our mouths to protect elders and vulnerable ones. The very act of breathing within two metres of another human could be a death sentence. Disease is passed from breath to breath . . . and then it travels into lungs causing many to gasp for air and some to die for lack of breath.
Yet skimming my heart for scriptural references, breath is not to be feared. Breath is love. Breath is creation. God grabbed mud from the earth and breathed life into us earthlings. After resurrecting, Jesus breathed upon the disciples as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Breath is sacred, intimate, powerful, and alive with creation.
Years ago, I was at a gathering with Michelle Martinez, an environmental justice warrior in Detroit, Michigan. She helped ground us by saying, “Breathe in and out. Even if you do nothing else with your life but breathe, that is enough . . . for you are feeding the trees.”
We breathe and the trees are fed. The trees breathe and we are fed. Right now, they are not afraid of our breath. In fact, they want more breathing and less production. They need no social distance from us. And in our panic and grief, they never stop breathing upon us. Trees are our co-conspirators. We give one another life.
So, it seems right this summer to be nourished by their lives, tended by their beauty, and reminded that our lives are tangled up together from root to fruit.
Trees’ gifts are infinite. Trees are kin. Trees are teachers. Trees are medicine. Trees are prophets. Trees bear witness. Trees are pastors, company, sustenance, and ancestors. Trees are trees. They were here before us and will go on living after we are gone.
Each of us picks up this issue with an aching heart. From the state of the world to the intimate corners of our communities, we are weeping. We have been walking with loneliness, despair, fear, and grief. We lay all of that upon this issue right here and right now. Let the trees hold us. Let us be undone, exposed, and slowly, slowly feel glimpses of hope and wholeness.
Many are taking this time to ask, “Who will I be on the other side of this pandemic?” Perhaps we must also ask, “Who will I be for the trees?”
May we fall at their feet. May we hear their leaves, touched by the wind, offering us whispers of love. May we see their colours, bright and changing, inviting us into the community of creation. May we taste their fruits, sweet and nutty, filling our bodies with healing food. May we touch their roots, wrinkled and unmoving, reminding us of our strength. May we smell them rotting, moist and crumbly, teaching us that death is just another form of life.
Lydia Wylie-Kellermann is editor of Geez magazine and lives in Detroit, Michigan. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Meg Lemieur, “CO2conspirators – Communing with Trees,” 2020.